#2093 | Five ways to read more daily

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Hey guys,

So, as a follow up to my previous post, I thought I’d address one of the questions that’s been coming in quite a bit – the question of how I incorporate reading into my day to day life. Actually, this question has been coming in a lot, ever since my 2016 year-end wrap post (The Year of Learning) where I detailed each book I read in 2016, almost all along the lines of: I want to read more, but I have no time..

Well, newsflash guys. No one has more time than another person. We all make time.

Anyway, I thought I’d once and for all detail the ways that I incorporate reading into my life. This post is for those of you who already want to read more and just dont know how, so please don’t leave comments saying like “oh but i could be watching tv” or “but what if I want to sleep more” because that’s not the point ok, the point is that you WANT TO READ MORE. Okay? Okay.

Here goes.

1. Read during your transitionary hours.

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I count transitory hours as hours you spend not actually doing your work or social life or whatever, but time spent transiting from one stage to the other. So Home to Work. Work to Dinner. Dinner to Home. Etcetera. I have said this several times on different platforms, but I might as well say it here too. One major pet peeve of mine is realising how much time I’ve wasted on trains, buses, so on and so forth, just mindlessly flipping through Facebook or instagram, looking at dumb articles I don’t care about or that will never affect my life in any way. We spend an insane amount of time on social media as a generation, and while I love my platforms and the way they help me stay updated on my friends’ lives and so on, there is such a thing as spending too much time on it. I honestly don’t care about half the videos I watch on my social feeds, about this fish that did this amazing thing or that turkey that couldnt stop walking in a circle. And then you look up and you’ve reached your train stop and an hour has gone by. A whole hour!

Instead, start carrying books around with you. Read on trains, buses, taxis, whatever. Assuming your commute to work is a healthy forty minutes, that’s forty minutes of solid reading per day. Don’t look at your phone for those forty minutes, the world will go on fine without you, it wont fall apart, especially not at freaking 8am in the morning.

This is also one of the major reasons why I very much like taking the train back at night, especially on nights I’m so tired I’m tempted to cab home (I mean, cmon, with all the Uber and Grab price wars, it’s getting seriously tempting…). I really like my transitory reading times, and the fact that I can read in a well lit train all the way home is really a huge plus for me, especially when I’m in the middle of a super good book and want all the time I can get to read it!

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2. Keep books at your workplace.

I always have three or four books at my office space because I might want something to read when I’m having lunch. To be fair, this is because I usually have lunch at my desk, it’s a freelancer thing. When youre paying rent for your desk you dont really want to go out and take nice lunch breaks because ITS HUSTLE TIME BABY. And it’s usually a quick lunch – so usually I either eat at my desk or go to the roof with my takeout, and get in one or two chapters there.

Another thing that I find happens, is that sometimes I get really mentally tired at my desk when I’ve been working on a project for too long. So sometimes I give myself twenty minute breaks in between to refresh my mind by reading a chapter of a book, and after that when I go back to my work I find that taking my mind completely away from the project and coming back to it later renders me fresher and able to see it more objectively!

3. Be flexible with your reading habits.

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By this I mean, be open to reading not just paper bound books, but books in different forms. I know it’s not always feasible to carry a book around with you when youre carrying too many things that day or if you just dont have space in your bag, so then just read it off your phone!

I have a kindle fire tablet that I bought from Amazon during a black friday sale for like fifty bucks two years ago, and I use that cos it’s insanely tiny and essentially a portable library at my fingertips. But even then, sometimes I ditch the tablet for my phone’s kindle app, because it syncs my books across in the cloud, and I can pick up from the exact page I left off in my phone! This, of course, requires that you either procure free copies of books online, or purchase them from the Amazon e-bookstore, but I find that e-books tend to be cheaper and go on sale frequently, so why not?

Another app that I find very useful is the Overdrive app that I discovered last year. As you can tell, I am all about the app life. But seriously, though, Overdrive is awesome. It’s a library app in your phone where you can “borrow” titles from your neighbourhood library and read them for free on your phone or desktop app. So because I am a member of the National Library (i think every Singaporean is, automatically?) and also NTU’s library, I can just search for titles that I want to read from their electronic book repository, and loan them out into my phone. Then, just like normal library books, after a certain number of days they just expire and you have to return them or renew the loan. It’s insane! We are living in the future!

The best part? THESE APPS ARE FREE. FREE, I SAY!

And when I said be flexible with your reading habits, I didn’t just mean learning to transition between paper and e-books. Audio books are also a great option. I have friends who listen to audio books when they drive, or when they go to the gym. I mean, it’s a great way of consuming content when you don’t necessarily have your hands or eyes free to hold and read a book. You can borrow audiobooks from Overdrive, mentioned above, or purchase them from Audible (first book free). For shorter reads, you can even listen to them on youtube. I super love listening to Neil Gaiman’s short stories on youtube, because he frequently reads his own stories so you dont just get some random voice. And I also really enjoyed listening to the War of the Worlds radio drama – it’s so realistic that when it was played in the UK back in 1938, people rioted and panicked because they honestly thought aliens had invaded. Haha!

I mean, of course you’ll personally prefer one form over the other. I personally love reading hard copy books, nothing quite beats the experience of the turned page for me. But I’m not violently opposed to the other two forms – at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me how I’ve read it, just that I have.

4. Get short stories delivered directly to your email inbox

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So maybe you want to read more, but dont have the stamina for full novels, or maybe don’t want to commit to purchasing entire books (though you really should). That’s fine too. Many of my favourite pieces of literature come in the form of short stories or poems, which I read online for free. These are easily digestible, low commitment, and you can also read them anywhere as long as you have an internet connection – on your phone, at your workplace, while waiting for your friends to show up for dinner, while queueing for lunch, etcetera.

One of my favourite tips for easily reading more is signing up for the Library of America’s free Story of the Week email service. It’s not super widely publicised, but you can sign up at this link, and they will email you a free short story every single week! And they’re good stories too, all of which have been published in reputable places, and most of which I’ve enjoyed. And as workaholic singaporeans, we are already so used to checking and reading our emails all the time, that this is really the perfect fit for us.

Other ways of getting stories delivered to you is to sign up for the newsletters of really great fiction magazine sites. My favourites are Catapult Magazine, which has a fantastic fiction repertoire, The New Yorker’s Fiction Magazine, The New York Times Modern Love Column, the Two Serious Ladies tumblr blog, and for very short fiction (under a thousand words) – I like Wigleaf.

5. Commit to a bedtime routine with books

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Ok fine, this is me reading a book at a party, but you get the idea

This is as simple as it sounds – it’s just carving out time to read. You know how some people schedule in time for exercise and treat it like any other appointment? Do the same for books. If you know you want to read more, then make an effort and commitment to doing it!

Personally, for me this takes the form of an hour’s ‘no electronics’ reading time before bed each night. This started because I read somewhere that looking at any sort of electronic screen an hour before you go to bed affects your quality of sleep + how easily you fall asleep, and I seriously love my sleep. So I started making an effort to take an hour before bed each night to read. I keep a line of books by my bed head, and change those books every month or so, so there’s always new stuff on hand to read. How do I have so many books to change around, you ask? Well, I buy them – either at bookstores, online at bookdepository.com (free worldwide shipping!), or at those pop up fairs. More than half the books I’ve bought were like five bucks and below; I am not opposed to buying somebody’s cast offs, to me that just means that someone else had the chance to love them too. And I get a lot of books as gifts, people have just taken to buying me books on my birthday and on other occasions because everyone knows I read and I’d like to think people get excited about sharing their favorite reads with another person too 🙂

Now, of course, realistically, I am not able to do this every night. Some nights I am too damned tired. Some nights I get home late after going out with friends and all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep. Some nights my brain will no longer function to absorb words (please remember, after all, that my day to day work when I’m not filming involves nonstop reading and writing, essentially), and so I’d rather watch a bedtime movie instead. And some nights I can only manage half an hour, not one full one.

But I think the point is that I have mentally committed to my hourly bedtime routine, and so more often than not, I do. And the hour of reading I get before bed adds up so fast, before I know it, I’ve gotten through two, three books a week, and am ever the better for it.

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I also never travel without a book. But as travel is not a daily thing, I’m not including it in this list of daily habits for reading.

So yes. Hope some of these are useful to you – I mean, I think they are super solid tips, so boo to you if you dont think so! Hahahahaha. But yeah like I said at the start of this post, i expect that I’m preaching to the converted lah. This post is really for people who love to read and want to read more, or who want to start reading more even though they are not habitual readers, and so I think if you adopt even one or two out of the five tips above you’ll find that your reading capacity will expand exponentially. 🙂

Ta, guys. That’s it, for now. All the best with your reading resolutions – I’m off, now, to keep up with mine. x

x
Jem

PS. I wrote a piece talking about ten of my recommendations for the Changi Airport site: Now Boarding, here!

#2048| just a thought

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Yesterday at a literary panel about Southeast Asian writing appealing to the world, a woman stood up in the audience and said oh well you know you need to listen to what us readers want and if we don’t want to read this because we don’t like it and it is not entertaining to us then we just DONT. And she was shouting and her hand was on the back of my chair and there was some spit that had landed on my lap and I stared at it for too Long and the moment to turn and address her had passed, and anyway, her comment was not aimed at me it was aimed at the panel.

This woman was old (are we still allowed to say that? Or is that now non-inclusive?) and so one might feel compelled to kind of brush it off or not expect her to change her views while at the same time holding on to the knowledge that she would be full of rage about having been dismissed so easily. Before the panel started, earlier in the evening, I overheard her and her friend talking loudly behind me about “books nowadays being too long, just read a bit from the middle and then go to the end and you’ll know if it’s good. Plus now that (she) teaches in school (she) feels like (she) needs to know what the book is, you know, about”. And when she later stood up and addressed the panel this was something she said again: that she bought but didn’t read books, and she said this with something like a sense of pride. This was very strange to me, both the incomprehensible choice to bring that kind of attitude to a literary festival and also the fact that Teachers like that exist. I hope she doesn’t teach English or literature but life doesn’t always follow your hopes. She spoke like someone highly educated and proud of it, and more likely than not she lectures in a higher degree institution somewhere. Or something. And in that vein this is what I wanted to say to her, that I did not, because I was staring at the spit on my lap. That literature is art and art does not exist to follow your desires.

Of course you can choose to only read what appeals to you. It’s your life and your privilege and your eyes and certainly your brain. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to try and understand postcolonial literature or infinite jest. One may subsist his/her whole life on a diet of dan brown, and while it is something I personally disagree with, I have to still say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. Why? Because it’s your life. But when you stand up in a panel to shout (lets face it that was what she was doing, shouting) this at three very accomplished very hardworking very serious novelists then it becomes a problem because 1. You have started a dialogue which must be then receptive to response and 2. You are being rude.

So since a dialogue, shouty or not, has been started, here is a response. You may of course live your life wrapped in the comfort of easy reads that serve to reassure you and your way of life and hold books that you nod at sagely every few lines, thinking, mm, this book gets me, gets my life, is so good and worthy, etcetera etcetera. But art is not here existing to validate your world view. It is here to unsettle you and poke holes in your brain and make you very very uncomfortable. And in that extreme discomfort it might hopefully help you recognise your privilege and understand what other people and communities go through, and help you understand how to care, and how to empathise in a way that is not burdensome to the people on the receiving end of your empathy. I do not have it figured out. I struggle with understanding/ synthesising both the complications of my status as a woman and my privilege as a young chinese able bodied woman in Singapore. I stumble around looking for the right words when trying to articulate my thoughts to and about these things. But I am trying. And I can say that I probably know to try because of the books I have been very fortunate to have been recommended, or given, or that have somehow fallen like blessings into my lap. Learning to embrace this discomfort while putting your pride aside and understanding that it is not always about you is a good and essential life skill when approaching the arts. And this is my view which I do not forcibly foster upon you or shout about in public panels and certainly not shout until my spit lands on the lap of some poor girl who just happens to be within firing distance. But if you want comfort, you should get a blanket.

x
Jem

#2013 | Mocha Mondays: Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House (noch ein mal)

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Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

The fun fact of the day is that noch in mal means one more time in German, drips and drops of the residual German I’ve retained from seven months living there a couple of years ago. And there you have the enrichment portion of today’s post – checked.

I’ve actually featured the Starbucks Fullerton Waterboat House in my Mocha Monday series before, so for those of you who havent seen that, here’s the TL;DR:


TL;DR
Starbucks on Fullerton Waterboat House
Famous for: BEING STARBUCKS
Seats: Plenty
Wifi: YES
Power points: YES!!

I went back recently to try out the new Starbucks lunch menu, which is basically a $9.90 set comprising one of their gourmet sandwiches with a tall-sized iced freshly brewed coffee or tea, running from 11am-3pm. The rest of the new items are available through the day, and what I’m really excited about is the additional food options for those of us who work through the night at one of the many 24hr Starbucks outlets – finally, something else substantial to munch on at 3am!

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My favourites from the set include the tuna sandwich, the country chicken pie, and the triple turkey pie, all of which are unreasonably good for a place that is mainly known for coffee and convenience. No complaints, though. Since trying the set I’ve been back several times to get the tuna sandwich, although opinions differ: most people prefer the meatball sandwich which I’m honestly quite half-half on. Team Tuna, you guys!

I also wanted to take the chance to sneakily introduce a new book recommendation: an extraordinary short story collection. Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon. The man makes the short story form look like an art. The ten stories are loosely connected, self aware, and sharp in their humour. For those of you who’d like a preview, here’s one of his short stories from the collection – the titular Love and Obstacles: read here.
(Also, if being featured on the New Yorker isnt a stamp of approval, what is?)

Till next time.

x
♥jem

#2003 | give me two hours and i will give you:

I loved her as much as ever and I still did not know how much that was.

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room. Book review up on my book blog: here.

x
Jem

#2001 | Untamed.

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Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones. They held me captive for thirteen days.

They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself.

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New post(s) on my book blog.

x
♥jem